Mark your calendars for June 9, 2023, when Eva Longoria’s highly anticipated Flamin’ Hot movie will be available for streaming on Disney+ and Hulu. The film tells the inspiring story of Richard Montañez, a Mexican American Frito Lay janitor who used his cultural heritage and upbringing to transform Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into a game-changing snack that took the food industry by storm.
Longoria enlisted Linda Yvette Chávez, a talented creator, director, writer, showrunner, and producer, to bring her vision for a lively, uplifting, and comedic adaptation of Montañez’s journey to life.
In addition to Flamin’ Hot, Linda is adapting the bestselling novel “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika L. Sanchez for Anonymous Content and MACRO, with America Ferrera making her directorial debut. Linda is also gearing up for her debut as a director with a horror-comedy penned by two up-and-coming Latino writers.
As part of a multi-year deal with 20th Television, Linda is developing her projects and overseeing the production of other dramas and comedies featuring diverse voices for all Disney platforms.
From Norwalk, California, Linda made a splash in the entertainment industry in 2020 with her groundbreaking, critically acclaimed, and award-nominated series “Gentefied,” which she co-created and co-showran. Produced by America Ferrera and MACRO, the show portrays the struggles of three cousins as they fight to save their grandfather’s famous Boyle Heights taco shop from gentrification.
Linda is a powerful voice in the industry. She is known for her authentic portrayals of the Mexican American experience and her ability to tell fearless, inclusive, and impactful stories on both the big and small screens. She shows no signs of slowing down and will continue breaking barriers in the future.
During an exclusive interview for HOLA! USA, Linda Yvette Chávez shared the challenges she faced while writing the screenplay and what inspired her to tell the story behind the creation of Flamin‘ Hot Cheetos.
Our glorious leader, Eva! I was wrapping up post-production on the first season of my series Gentefied when I was told Eva wanted to meet with me for Flamin’ Hot. She’d read the script for “I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” loved it, and felt like I was the right person to come in and bring her vision for Flamin’ Hot to life. When she shared her deck with me and her creative vision for the film, I was like, “This is insane! That’s how I wanna see our stories told.” Her vision for telling Richard’s story was unique, exciting, and something I wanted to dig my teeth into.
I’ll never forget walking out of a meeting with Eva at Chateau Marmont (one of the most Hollywood lunches of my life, by the way) when she turned to me and said, “Isn’t this incredible? A Latina director and a Latina screenwriter working on a film for Searchlight together? This never happens.” My whole heart swelled. Yeah, pretty freaking incredible. But she’s right; it doesn’t happen enough, and I’m so grateful we got to do this one together.
I’d heard of Richard’s story through online articles, but it wasn’t until I met Richard and Judy that I realized I definitely didn’t know Richard’s story. The real story. What it took for him to overcome heartbreaking challenge after heartbreaking challenge to make his dream come true. Sitting in their home, their family nearby, and hearing the details of their journey, I kept thinking, “Goodness, people have no idea what this Brown man went through to make a damn Cheeto spicy!”
Looking at Richard, I saw my father, my brothers, my cousins – all of the men in my life who had persevered in a country that often rejected them, criminalized them, and did whatever they could to make them feel less worthy. Who I saw before me was a man just like them who became a hero. He was a hero to his family, a hero to his community, a hero to an industry, and who I felt in my bones would become a hero and inspiration to not only all of the boys and men who look just like him but the world entirely.
Then there was Judy. A woman who stood by his side and was an equal parts superhero. A woman who showed up with all she had and held this man up in partnership as he chased a crazy dream. I’d seen this all before in my own family and community. I left that meeting feeling electrified!
It was wild. The draft of the script that really got things moving is one I wrote in the midst of lockdown. It’s incredibly hard to be creative when the entire world is going through such a scary time, but Richard’s story was this beacon of light in my heart that kept calling me. I was quarantined with my family at the time and working out of a small room where I covered the walls in character arcs, act breakdowns, and inspirational quotes.
I just knew in my bones that we needed hope. Hell, I needed hope, and I needed faith, and I found that in Richard and Judy’s story. I see this film not so much as a film about Cheetos but as a story of a man who did something epic. A superhero film. That’s how I saw the movie amid a pandemic. Eva was very much on the same page, and she brought it to life beautifully.
Expect something effervescent, heartwarming, complex, and absolutely feel-good. She has created a cult classic, and I’m so grateful she brought me along for the ride!
I can’t speak for all of society, but I can say that chile is a huge part of my culture. You won’t catch me eating anything without throwing some salsita on it. Most Mexican-Americans didn’t know a guy just like they created Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or that he was the godfather of Hispanic marketing. But when they find out, it doesn’t surprise them at all.
We were putting chile on our chips long before the spicy chip came into mainstream popularity. We’re a large part of the population, and I think our love for spice has influenced the spread of something like Hot Cheetos, especially in the Southwest and Los Angeles, where movies are made. It’s not only Mexicans who love spicy food here. Most folks in the Southwest have fallen in love with spicy food because of our cultural influence, and chile is native to these lands and its indigenous people.
Richard knew something like this could go far because it was all around him. He was just smart enough to push someone like Enrico to see just how remarkable our influence would ultimately be in the end.
Absolutely the most important are the characters. Every part where people hope dream, and fear–where relationships can light or put out your inner fire–that’s what we’re signing up for, and that’s what makes the story interesting to audiences in the end. In this film, it’s not the product itself. The nostalgia for the product is what brings us in, but it’s the people behind it dreaming, innovating, and going into the unknown that captures our attention.
Ultimately, you must remember that you’re not making a documentary when adapting someone’s real life. You’re making a movie, and a film has a structure to follow. Sometimes things have to be adjusted, shifted, and combined to create the most compelling story that makes audiences sit on the edge of their seats. That comes from structuring great emotional arcs for your characters that take them on a ride, and that’s ultimately what sells tickets, in my humble opinion.
Projects like these mean hope. At the film’s premiere, I experienced what I experienced when my series “Gentefied” dropped, an energy, a swell, a connection, an otherworldly force that happens when you see yourself on the screen depicted with pure authenticity and love. It changes you on a deep level. I think I’ve been searching to do it my whole life because it’s the feeling I was always missing. I can’t explain it, but I see my people and am in love.
I want the world to see their beauty, and I want my people to see their beauty as well. So I learned to translate the beauty of my people to the world through writing. Having the opportunity to do that on a large scale and contribute to our representation is a feeling I can’t fully describe. It’s epic. So to answer your question, yes, movies absolutely can make an impact.
My favorite memories were those intimate creative, collaborative moments working with Eva on the script. The conversations with Judy and Richard and watching my best friend Annie prepare for the role of Judy with so much passion and grace.
Produced by DeVon Franklin, the film stars Jesse Garcia as Richard, Annie Gonzalez as his wife, Judy, Emilio Rivera as Richard’s father, Nacho, Dennis Haysbert as Richard’s mentor, Clarence, and 4x Emmy Award winner Tony Shalhoub as PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico.